China Labor NGO DGZ named to be in “collusion with overseas forces”, by Xinhua News Agency
This was not the first time that Shenzhen Dagongzhe Workers’ Centre (DGZ) became a target.
DGZ, one of the labour rights groups among the many non-government organizations set up in China in the late 1990s, was set up by workers with work injuries in 2000. Since then, DGZ has been providing labour laws training and consultation services to workers in Shenzhen, served thousands of peasant workers and facilitated their mutual support.
Huang Qing-nan, also a factory worker, became a staff member when DGZ registered in 2003. Huang came to Shenzhen at 23, and has been a coach driver, truck driver in construction site, and worker in a pasta factory. In 1999, he was seriously burned by concentrated sulfuric acid on his face, leaving him disfigured and severe pain. He asked for compensation from the employer but was only given RMB150,000 as medical subsidies. His claim for compensation through the court was unsuccessful. With the help of DGZ, he received donation for skin graft. He then became a volunteer at the center and served other workers of work injury. Eventually, he came to realize that workers’ issues were not isolated cases. He decided to help more workers.
The center delivers education programme on labour laws, answers workers’ inquiries, gives out booklets on labour rights, teaches workers to calculate their salary and avoid traps in job-seeking, introduces workers to written contracts and social security, etc. Such information was vital to the peasant workers who found themselves strangers in the new city. For more than 10 years since the center was set up, most of the labour disputes it handled were related to unlawful payment of social security, missing over-time work payment and overdue severance payment by the employer. Without the information provided by the center, the workers wouldn’t even know that the employers were violating labour laws.
Though DGZ was only providing consultation service to the workers, it was a pain in the neck for the capitalists, and the center had a hard time. One day in November 2007, when Huang Qing-nan was on his way to meet a worker at the factory to claim overdue wages, he was attacked from behind by a stranger with machetes, and his left leg was chopped off. The violent incident has outraged many organizations. Organizations in Hong Kong were in support of Huang and raised fund to support his medical treatment. The “black evil forces” mentioned by the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group had been hovering over the labour rights groups in Pearl Delta Region. Huang Qing-nan is still the legal representative of DGZ, but he has returned to his home-town in Fujian since the attack in 2008. To everyone’s surprise, he was accused by the government for “colluding with overseas forces” and arrested in the Jasic labour dispute.
Photo: News photo of Huang Qing-nan attached on street in 2007.
Photo: Eddie Chu Hoi Dick visited Huang Qing-nan in the hospital.
In 2012, the government cracked down on more than ten labour rights groups in Shenzhen, including DGZ. In the same year, when workers from the center were celebrating the Labour’s Day in Pingshan Square under the theme of “workers fighting for livelihood security”, the event was stopped by the police and the center staff were taken to the police station for questioning until mid-night. On the next day, the landlord cut off water and electricity supply, and forced them to leave. In the following years, there were several incidents where labour rights activists were kept under criminal detention, imprisoned, and attacked on street. The most serious crackdown on the labour rights groups by the Chinese Communist Party happened on 3 December 2015, when 25 labour activists of various labour rights groups in Guangdong were arrested in forced open door operations. The incident was called the 1203 Incident. Since then, labour rights groups have to go into low profile operation.
Fu Chang-guo joined DGZ just before the 1203 Incident. The “evidence” cited by the Xinhua News Agency to accuse Fu for “controlling students” was that he forwarded news of the labour dispute online and chanted slogans at the scene of the dispute. In fact, the effort to set up a union was self-initiated by the Jasic workers, and then received support from the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group organized by students. When the Xinhua News Agency released its commentary, Hong Kong-based organization Workers Empowerment and the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group released declaration respectively to denounce the “facts” in the official commentary.
Fu Chang-guo and Huang Qing-nan were arrested by the policy on 10 August and 13 August respectively, and put under criminal detention for more than a month for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Huang Qing-nan was said to be released and returned to his hometown in Fujan. They were not allowed to meet their lawyers during detention, and we know nothing about the treatment they received in jail.
The Shenzhen police cracked down on Jasic labour dispute on 24 August with a heavy hand. On the same day, official media of the Chinese Communist Party released an “investigation report” and claimed the dispute to be a result of intervention from “overseas forces”, and DGZ and its staff Fu Chang-guo, legal representative Huang Qing-nan, and Hong Kong organization Workers Empowerment were named. The commentary of the Xinhua News Agency was commonly considered to be representing political verdict of the Chinese Communist Party on the incident.
Accusation of “collusion with overseas forces” is a “multi-purpose key” of the Chinese Communist Party. Once an incident is said to be “controlled by overseas forces”, all social conflicts were explained and the root causes can be dismissed. Take the Jasic labour dispute as an example, while the owner of Jasictech, Pan Lei, is a representative of the National People’s Congress, Jasic never set up a union (not even an official one) and used unlawful employment terms. How could the local officials explain the labour dispute? The most convenient way was to blame the “overseas” and frame up a labour rights organization.